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Complicit: TV Drama Review

Complicit stars David Oyelowo, who played Danny in Spooks/Mi5, as Edward Ekubo and Arsher Ali, who was in Four Lions, as Waleed Ahmed. Niall MacCormick directed, from a screenplay by Guy Hibbert. It was first shown on British TV network Channel 4 in February 2013.

Note: Spoilers are blacked out like like this [blackout]secret[/blackout]. To reveal a spoiler, just highlight it.

Complicit staring David Oyelowo

Complicit: Title

The title is derived from the premise of the story, which is ‘Will the Protagonist will become complicit in torture?’ Making a reference to the premise in the title is a classic title generation technique.

(For more on titles, see How to Choose a Title For Your Novel)

Complicit: Logline

When an MI5 agent who’s obsessed with stopping a terror plot that he can’t convince his superiors is real flies to Egypt to interrogate the British man he believes to be organising it, he must decide how far he will go to prevent the attack.

(For more on loglines see The Killogator Logline Formula)

Complicit: Plot Summary

Edward Ekubo is an MI5 agent who joined the Security Service straight from university and has been working there for fourteen years. It seems his career is going nowhere. Whether that’s because of his race or just his own inability to fit in is unclear. He has a distant relationship with his white colleagues and his wife, who is also white, has left him. However, Edward desperately wants to prove his deep commitment to Britain and MI5.

Edward has been monitoring Waleed Ahmed, a suspected terrorist who’s also a British subject, for three years. Edward becomes convinced Waleed is planning an attack using the poison Ricin but can’t quite prove it, the evidence all being rather circumstantial.

Waleed has told friends he’s going to a wedding in Yemen, but Edward knows this is a lie because an informant has told him Waleed is a sworn enemy of the bridegroom. He also suspects Waleed has terrorist contacts in Yemen. Edward’s superiors are less than convinced: the case is mostly Edward’s supposition, based on flimsy evidence. Eventually he persuades them to tail Waleed to Yemen.

Waleed loses his shadows, but Edward suspects he’s heading for a castor bean farm near Cairo, as Ricin is made from castor beans. The Egyptian police raid the farm and arrest Waleed and the other conspirators, but don’t find any Ricin.

In Egypt

Edward flies to Cairo. He’s fobbed off by MI6’s man there, who takes a snobbish attitude to him. They interview Waleed, who claims that he’s innocent and that the local police have tortured him. Waleed knows that MI5 and MI6’s rules mean they must investigate the torture allegation before they can interrogate him.

Following the rules, Edward sits and waits. Worse, with no Ricin at the farm, the case against Waleed is thin. The MI6 man seems slow, unhelpful and rule-bound, making excuses to not introduce Edward to his Egyptian State Security contact, Colonel Hazem Ashraf.

Edward is sure that time is running out, and two days have already passed in inaction. He goes to find Colonel Ashraf for himself. Ashraf admits he tortured the castor bean farmers, but says he didn’t torture Waleed. However, he offers to remedy this, if Edward wants him to. He also says the Egyptian police didn’t find Ricin at the farm because they didn’t look for it.

Edward goes to the farm and finds suspicious containers. He wants them sent to London for tests to prove he’s right. The MI6 man agrees but, once again, is in no rush.

Against orders, Edward tries to interrogate Waleed, but handles it badly. Waleed all but admits he’s a terrorist and provokes Edward into attacking him. He says there’s nothing Edward can do to stop the plot because of the bureaucratic inertia of MI5 and MI6.

The Siren Call

Edward has a dilemma: let the plot go ahead or ask Colonel Ashraf to torture the location of the Ricin out of Waleed.

He [blackout]gives Colonel Ashraf the go ahead.[/blackout]

Colonel Ashraf [blackout]beats an address out of Waleed. Edward forwards it to MI5. Waleed’s serious injuries appall the MI6 guy, who reports Edward to London. MI5 recall Edward to the UK to face the consequences of his decision. Worse, the address turns out to be false, and an Egyptian blogger has pictures of Edward with Colonel Ashraf. The entire case is going to be all over the papers, and a is becoming a propaganda victory for the terrorists[/blackout]

Edward [blackout]becomes the victim of an MI5 damage limitation exercise, and they fire him. With the evidence against Waleed tainted by torture, he walks free. Edward has failed to stop the terror plot, his actions have destroyed his career, and he’s alone, expecting Waleed to hunt him down.[/blackout]

Complicit staring David Oyelowo

(For more on summarising stories, see How to Write a Novel Synopsis)

Complicit: Analysis


Complicit has a Mission plot (see Spy Novel Plots ) but an unusually downbeat one, with most of the Allies the Protagonist meets being ambivalent about helping him. It also has an open ending – we don’t see the final confrontation, though Edward’s failure to complete his mission, and his likely fate, are clear.

The ‘Mission’ Plot

The Protagonist:

  1. Is given a mission to carry out by their Mentor.
  2. Will be opposed by the Antagonist as they try to complete the mission.
  3. Makes a plan to complete the Mission.
  4. Trains and gathers resources for the Mission.
  5. Involves one or more Allies in their Mission (Optionally, there is a romance sub-plot with one of the Allies).
  6. Attempts to carry out the Mission, dealing with further Allies and Enemies as they meet them.
  7. Is betrayed by an Ally or the Mentor (optionally).
  8. Narrowly avoids capture by the Antagonist (or is captured and escapes).
  9. Has a final confrontation with the Antagonist and completes (or fails to complete) the Mission.


Complicit is a slow, serious character-driven film centred on two fantastic performances by Oyelowo and Ali. Both of their characters are in their own ways outsiders in British society, and both in their own ways fanatics. Edward is desperate to fit in but unable to do so, more, the viewer suspects, because of his own nature than his race. Waleed hates everything about Britain and wants to tear the country down and implement his own idea of utopia.

The subtle, moody script gives Oyelowo a lot to do, and he succeeds brilliantly, as does Ali in his smaller part. The confrontation between the two of them is the highlight of the film.


On my real-to-unreal spy movie scale, Complicit gets a full 10/10 for realism. Grey offices. Colourless suits worried about the budget implications of tailing suspects to Yemen. MI6 officers more interested in which university Edward went to than stopping the Ricin plot. It all rings true, reminding me of some of John le Carré’s more downbeat novels. Of course, that means the film is not for everyone. There are no action set-pieces whatsoever, for example.

Complicit offers a better and more thorough exploration of the issues surrounding torture than Zero Dark Thirty did, by some distance. I’m opposed to torture, but this film showed me the pressure on our security services. It dramatises the siren call of ‘getting results’ superbly.

Complicit also made me think of Skyfall, not directly, but as a critique. Edward is a Bond-like figure trapped in reality, a loner who’s willing to break the rules and pursue his vendetta at whatever cost. [blackout]The denouement shows what would happen to Bond in reality: thrown out of the service as an embarrassing ‘bad apple’.[/blackout]

Alternative Complicit Movie Poster

Here’s my design for an alternate poster for Complicit. Actually, in this case it’s not so much an alternative poster as just a poster, as I don’t think Channel Four produced one. Click the poster to see alternative posters for other spy thrillers.
Alternative Poster for TV Drama Complicit starring David Oyelowo

Complicit: My Rating

As you might guess from the analysis: top marks. This is great stuff for those who like a meaty, realistic spy drama.

Want to watch it?

Complicit is available on Amazon US here and Amazon UK here.

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